An article from NordForsk

Oslo after July 22 bombing. A car bomb went off at the executive government quarter of Norway, killing eight people. Later the terrorist killed 69 people at a summer camp outside Oslo. (Photo: Wikipedia)

How to prepare for the unthinkable

The terrorist attack on Norway this summer and earlier assassinations of Swedish politicians were wake-up calls. The Nordic countries must acquire skills to handle new crises.

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NordForsk is an organisation under the Nordic Council of Ministers that provides funding for Nordic research cooperation as well as advice and input on Nordic research policy.

"The manner in which Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg handled the terrorist attacks in Norway on 22 July has been lauded around the world. The same cannot be said about the operative preparedness," says Bengt Sundelius, Swedish professor of political sciences specialising in crisis management and international cooperation.

"Norway is now in a similar state of shock as Sweden was after the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1986. Neither country was prepared because it was generally believed that nothing like that could ever happen there. How can we best learn from each other’s experiences?" asks the professor.

National level is limiting

The Nordic countries have gone through different types of crises and have much to learn from each other. Sweden, for example, handled the assassination of Minister of Foreign Affairs Anna Lindh in 2003 – 17 years after Palme – in a totally different manner, as the country had learned from previous events and put this knowledge into practice.

But threats to societal security also include climate change and its impacts on nature and our way of life, collapse of critical infrastructure such as energy and water supply systems, and organised crime. All of these have one thing in common: they extend across national boundaries. Nordic cooperation may be crucial.

"Research at the national level is very limiting, because each country is working on a relatively small scale. It is time to begin cooperating at the Nordic level," states Sundelius, who works at the Uppsala University and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB).

Wake-up calls

A new feasibility study granted by NordForsk will now look into the possibilities for such collaboration.

"These tragedies have been a wake-up call in many ways," Sundelius continues.

"But we must be very careful not to let single events form the basis for a new, specialised research agenda. The agenda must remain generic because the next crisis will be something completely different. What we need to do is acquire skills and tools that we can apply in a way that best suits a new situation when it arises – much like children put together Lego blocks to create a unique structure. This is the only way we can prepare ourselves to tackle the unknown."

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